Jharkhand High Court in state capital Ranchi. The court on Feb. 7 bailed Jesuit Father Alphonse Aind, arrested seven months ago on charges of abetting rape. (Photo from jharkhandhighcourt.nic.in)
A Jesuit priest detained for allegedly abetting a gang rape in eastern India has been given bail but must remain in jail due to another rape-related complaint being filed with police.
The High Court of Jharkhand state granted bail to Father Alphonse Aind on Feb. 7 over charges he was part of a conspiracy in the gang rape of five social workers in remote Kochang village in the state’s Khunti district on June 19 last year.
Father Peter Martin, a Jesuit priest-lawyer who follows the case, told ucanews.com that Father Aind must remain in jail because of a second case filed on June 21 by Sanjay Sharma.
“We assume the priest will be behind bars” until investigations are completed in the second case, said Father Martin.
Investigations into this case are ongoing, making it difficult for Father Aind to be freed, Father Martin said.
The charges in the second case include illegal omission in reporting the case to police, administering a drug or poison with intent to commit an offense, criminal intimidation and fraudulent removal of property to prevent its seizure.
Church officials say all charges are fabricated amid a hostile atmosphere against Christians in the state since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014.
A lawyer for the priest, Jasminder Majumdar, told the court that the court statements of the alleged victims in the gang rape case have “glaring contradictions” which prove the priest has been falsely implicated.
Abducted five young women
Father Aind was the principal of Jesuit-run Stockmann Memorial Middle School in Kochang village under Khunti Diocese when he was arrested on June 22.
Six men on motorcycles allegedly abducted five young women, who were staging a street play at the school, and raped them in a nearby forest.
They also attacked some men, who were part of the street play team, and abducted at least two of them. Police claim the men were left on the edges of the forest before the alleged rapists moved inside the forest and raped the women.
The social activists and two Urseline nuns who were not abducted were part of a team conducting an awareness program about the trafficking of girls at the invitation of Father Aind, who is also the local parish priest.
Police say the play angered the attackers because it expressed sentiments against Pathalgadi — a movement asserting tribal autonomy over villages as per provisions in the Indian constitution.
The movement has been projected as rebelling against some state polices which tribal leaders say aim to take away their land and resources in the name of development projects.
The Jharkhand government has termed the movement unlawful and BJP leaders have accused church groups of supporting such movements.
"There are efforts to implicate the Church in such a dispute and discredit the good services it has been doing," said Indian bishops' conference secretary-general Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas.
Church officials suspect such efforts aim to link church people with controversial movements and divide the state’s indigenous community ahead of the 2019 general election.
Jharkhand has a large tribal Christian population who could be a deciding factor in the election in some areas. More than one million of the 32 million people in the state are Christians, almost all tribal people. The Christian population is even stronger in Khunti district, where 25 percent of the 532,000 people are estimated to be Christians.